Interview by Darielle (@darielle333)
Darielle: Before we start, I wanna hear who you reppin? Who’s your community? Who’s your people?
Jewel: I’m repping Black people always.
Jewel: Period. I don’t do the Black and brown, I don’t do the POC. B-L-A-C-K. Period. I rep specifically Black queer and trans people. Specifically, Black queer and trans people who are from the hood, who’ve been told to shrink and dim and be quiet. I’m like no, shine bright, come out the corner, get on the stage, spotlight on you! That to me, is a radical act.
My community are the people who I think society tends to throw away, look over and tell to just sit down. So yeah, that’s my people. Black queer and trans people. From the hood, who grew up poor. That’s who I center in my work
Darielle: Your people is also Brooklyn, right?
Jewel: Oh, PERIOD! Brooklyn all day.
Darielle: I know bitch!!
Jewel: Pre-gentrified East New York. That’s home for me. When I’m in East New York, that’s the bodega I stole from, the one my grandma taught me to get her cigarettes from. And it speaks to what resourcefulness, and resilience looks like in the hood. So yea, pre-gentrified East Brooklyn, all day.
Darielle: All fucking day. As you know, we going through a lot right now. The world is in a point of transition, a point of pausing. What is keeping you well?
Jewel: What is keeping me well, or who I should say, is my culture. I’m very strongly rooted to being Haitian and relying on ancestral energies. I’m thinking about people who came before me who had to make it through worse. People who kicked down doors, burned up shit so that I could be here. The least I could do is try to thrive as much as I can. Whenever I’m feeling panic, I think to myself, Ok.. ancestors got me.
The second thing is my community. People have been checking in on me. My friends been FaceTiming, texting me, literally if I don’t respond to a text within an hour, I’m getting a call: Are you good? And I think that is making me feel more connected to people than ever.
Darielle: So, when it comes down to community. Everybody knows who the fuck Jewel is. Jewel is the person who is building community. Always. What pushes you to make space for Black folks in everything that you do?
Jewel: I feel like I’ve always been a mobilizer. Even when I was a kid. In elementary school, I’d be like Ooo y’all wanna do this? Y’all wanna do that? So I feel like that’s a gift I was given by my ancestors. This is my passion work. This is something I do in my sleep. I don’t look at it and say ok today I’m gonna do this, with a checklist. It feels very natural. It feels very, this is what I’m supposed to do.
When I get on the stage at Ratchet realm and I see everyone existing unapologetically, I’m like, this is the work.
A lot of these spaces don’t exist as unapologetically Black as I created to be. There are other similar spaces that are like QTPOC, but I’m like Black. Period. I get on the mic and I’m like “If you are not Black, you are violating the space. Period.” And there’s no other space that I’ve been in that has held Blackness to the highest regard.
I got tired of hearing “POC” space, why y’all afraid to say Black? Black people are at the heart of this work and this land. And indigenous folks, and there’s intersections in that.
I’m doing it for people who come after me, that will see me curating spaces for Black people, and realize that they can do that too.
Darielle: It’s great to do community work, and at the same time, community can really be trifling. There be some times when I’m like I really be trying to do this work for y’all and y’all sometimes treat me so badly. Especially when you’re a Black femme.
Jewel: Talk about it!!! My thing is it’s very important to have your venting buddies. Your sounding board (with consent: do you have the capacity to be my venting buddy?) You let it all the fuck out. Those are valid, real, authentic ass feelings. But then just like you have stages of grief, you have stages of dealing with trifling ass community members. So the next step is to be like you know what this is bigger than me and this is bigger than them. And all this energy that they’re bringing, just amplifies the importance of these spaces. Because niggas are angry. They don’t love themselves sometimes. Maybe because society is spewing those messages.
So how do you combat that by still showing up, by still creating events, by saying to them Look I know you don’t like me and I don’t like you, but you’re still welcome in this space (Not abusers, because they’re never welcome). But there’s people who come to A Ratchet Realm, who I’ve had little conflicts with, and they’ve come up to me and been like “You know Jewel, I just wanna drop it.” I give them a hug, I say aight it’s cool, enjoy a Ratchet Realm.
Combat the conflict by meeting it with love!
The third stage would just be reminding yourself that you have resilience. Don’t let motherfuckers stop you from doing your life’s work.
Darielle: So now, tell me more about A Ratchet Realm, how did it come to be?
Jewel: I was hosting a few parties in community and they were hosted by amazing DJs, DJ Jada Loraine + more, and I was like this is wonderful.
But I didn’t see Black femmes organizing, curating it, I didn’t see that happening: a space curated by femmes. I also wasn’t seeing enough Black femme DJ’s. What I wanted a Ratchet Realm to be a femme experience. It needed to have that femme visibility on the mic and curating the sound.
Thinking about the word Ratchet, it has a negative connotation. How do we embrace it? What’s wrong with being loud, what’s wrong with being ghetto, what’s wrong with being loud?
A ratchet realm to me is, the world silences us, but in a Ratchet Realm I want people to literally get there and be like, ok I’m home.
People have changed their clothes in a Ratchet Realm. It’s a place where people get to really affirm themselves. But I also want to add that as a way to prioritize femmes, at a Ratchet Realm, I cover up to $100 worth of people’s Lyfts and Ubers. We always wanna make sure you’re not getting attacked on your way home. I also encourage car-pooling if possible if you wanna avoid the train for safety.
Ultimately, It’s a big fuck you in society. When Black people gas up each other, it is ancestrally and spiritually powerful. When we get in a circle, and gas each other up. That energy, that shit could move mountains.
Darielle: Oajfajfajf, I have so much to say. Also the fact that A Ratchet Realm is free for Black trans women. I know when I’ve pulled up to A Ratchet Realm, I changed when I got there (for my safety). I left my house dressed as a whole “nigga” (masculine presenting), and changed in the bathroom when I got there. And it did feel like home. So for me, I also wanna know what home feels like in your own body. For those know Jewel, she always has a new hair color, new styles, etc. So what’s that process like? How do express what feels good for you physically?
Jewel: Yes, so let’s go into hair. Anytime you see my hair in braids or twists, I do it myself.
Darielle: Period. I didn’t know that.
Jewel: Yup yup. I often times do my hair based on the vibe I’m trying to feel. For the New Year, I’m tryna channel my heart chakra to be open, I’m tryna secure my money bag. So I had green in my hair. I also had white and gold in my hair. White, spiritually, Black people wear as a way to honor ancestors. And then Gold, I think about melanin being gold, worth, all that. So, I specifically was like green, gold and white is how I wanna bring in 2020. Secure my bag, open my heart, and all that type of stuff. I’m always think about colors as a way to channel what I’m trying to manifest during that time. When I get out of an abusive relationship, I chose purple, because it was this sense of royalty, coming back to yourself. Hair braiding historically, and ancestrally—you know, ancestors who literally hid rice inside of cornrows to transfer food to different place—- are such a way to connect to my ancestors, my childhood, my people.
I think about clothes and makeup. I love a lip, a good liner. All of that is my uniform. All of that is my battle attire. My armor. My protection. And I’m like I aint leaving the house without my hair beat, my face done. It’s an energy for me, that I’m here, I’m taking up space, you can look if you want to, it’s a way that I can speak loudly and boldly without my mouth being open.
Darielle: Tell me more about femmehood. What does femmehood mean to you. You know you’re the person who introduced me to the idea of femme!
Jewel: I feel like femmes are the most powerful element. It’s the root of revolutions. When I’ve done research about my people, Black women and femmes were the ones who trained the men to go into the battle. They were the ones who sewed the flags that people waved around for the pride of their country. They were the ones who stayed home and took care of anything. There’s no greater pillar than femmes. We’re bosses. We’re the bosses of the revolution. There’s no movement without femmes. Even if you don’t hear about us, you haven’t read about us, you ain’t seeing us. We are there. We are writing speeches, we are making sure that shit moves. And shit will not move without femmes.
There’s different ways that people exude their femmehood. I exude my femmehood with my hair, my nails, my makeup but what I’ve also been talking to people in community about the fact that there are people who strongly identify as femmes, but they’re not read as femmes. That’s been challenging my idea and society’s ideas of “femme”, and associating it specifically with “feminine”.
It’s in you energy, it’s in your core, it’s in your body. Femmehood exist only on the exterior. Because if it only exists on the exterior, then that means when someone ’s in the car changing their clothes, do they lose their femmehood? If they’re wearing what society would see as, you know, baggier clothes— does that mean that they’re not femme? Maybe they’re doing that for safety, for survival. So I’ve been really challenging my brain to be expansive—Femmehood is however you express your femmehood to be. It’s boss energy. It’s your energy.
Darielle: I’m going through a time right now, where I’m talking to different cis, straight men. And it’s an affirming situation because I’m like wow, cis straight men are into me? It affirms that at some capacity they’re seeing me as a woman. AND yet, I just have to continue navigating through conversations with them, where I’m like, “When I’m not dressed in “feminine” clothing, are you still reading me as a femme person. Even when I’m naked, cause like when I’m naked, I have a penis. I do not have breasts. It’s not like I have this frilly white skirt on. So, are you reading me as femme, when I’m “most vulnerable.” And it’s hard.
Jewel: Exactly. That’s why we have to look at it outside of hair, makeup, heels.
Darielle: Sex is also like — ugh, we could talk about that forever. But I wanna hear about this. A lot of people know you for A Ratchet Realm, I don’t know how many people know that you also support and teach black folks self defense and how to protect themselves in a world that’s so aint shit. I wanna hear more about that. Who do you center when you do this work? How do you approach stuff that might be bringing up traumatic events for young people?
Jewel: The type of self-defense that I teach is very holistic and it’s based on empowerment. A lot of the times self-defense people think I’m gonna flip someone over, imma karate kick them. You know 1) self-defense and martial arts are not the same thing. Two separate things. Self-defense is anything you do to keep yourself safe. If that means kicking somebody and running, or if that means throwing something and running. Blocking something and running. Or escaping in any way that feels good within your body.
And I think that’s very different than combat. So, I think that talking to people who are survivors of violence, talking to people who don’t feel at home in their bodies to say use your body and your voice, (which you may not feel comfortable with either) to defend yourself, you have to at first at the very core, 1) start with you have the right to defend yourself. So going into talking about people’s rights and worth because oftentimes if you don’t feel like your body is defending, then self-defense looks very different for you. Talking about survivors, it’s like, everyone in this room is worthy of having themselves protected. And that is a very mind-blowing concept for a lot of people who experience violence. People who are super privileged, they’re like of course! But for those of who have experienced violence in our bodies from street harassment, to physical abuse and sexual abuse, the idea and concept of “Oh wait, I get to say.. no?”, I get to say, “Move away from me?” I get to kick you if you get too close? I get to change my mind? That is mind-blowing. So opening up with, You have the right to defend yourself.
Then going into verbal de-escalation.I think that’s really critical. It’s like recognizing your triggers, being able to read the other person’s body language. How do you use your words, how do you communicate and de-escalate as a first line of defense. Your voice can be the first line of defense. Your wit, your thought process can be your first line of defense. Now, once those things are not working, it is really important to know some physical self-defense techniques. That’s when we go into our basic classes, about some basic strikes, some basic blocks. Then we have multi-session series, where we talk about how to get out of chokes, what do you do if someone is attacking you with a knife or a gun. What are some different things you can move around with your body to escape some of that, or throw something, zig zag motion to get away. All of that.
So, for me, as a femme who teaches self-defense, I think what’s critical, is who I center are femmes who also wanna keep themselves safe. What I often hear is, “I’m really short and people don’t listen to me.” or “I’m femme, and I have my hair, makeup and my heels on, they not taking me seriously.” It’s a lot of internalized femmephobia that society has spewed. And I’m like look, I hear you, but guess what being shorter means that that kick, boom, hit that lower kick to the knee, no matter the person’s taller or shorter. BOOM, you got your heels? Take your shoes off, hit that motherfucker in the eye. Nails? Use that motherfucking shit to scratch a motherfucker in they face. How do you use your femininity to keep yourself safe?
And I think specifically talking to women of trans experience, we’re like Oh Wow! I can do THIS. Cause oftentimes what would come up when I was talking to femmes is, “Well, I don’t wanna be masculine when I’m defending myself.” They’re perceiving me in a way when that’s not how I identify, so now I got them fucked up and they got me fucked up. Then also the idea of, “I wanna keep myself safe but I also wanna hold onto my femininity” I’m like you can do both. As we talk about doing both, we unpack, what is masculinity when it’s keeping yourself safe? What are we tryna say? Are we trying to say that only masc people can defend themselves? Why does self-defense have to do with masculine or feminine? Isn’t it just about defending oneself? You know what I mean? So I get them to like teach them some stuff first around using femininity. And then I get them to be like, but guess what, even if you gotta do something that you think is masculine, do that shit to be safe! Cause your body, it matters. Your life matters.
It’s all about meeting people where they are, and challenging them to think outside of what they’ve been taught by society. Which is inherently femmephobic, which is inherently misogynistic, which is inherently transphobic. So it’s like combatting with something that’s already embedded within us.
Darielle: Exactly. Every time I talk to you, listen to you, it’s like wow, you’re so fucking brilliant. As we finish up this interview, I have two questions.
If you lived in the avatar (the last air bender) world, what element would you bend?
Jewel: When you said fire, I thought of like, what are the things that need to burn. And the things that need to burn is white supremacy, transphobia, femmephobia, misogynoir, classism, ableism. You know what I mean? Racism, anti-Blackness. And so to me, I think about doing research about Haitians and how they literally burned plantations and also Black folks in the United States of America who were stolen from Africa. Slavery here also, burning plantations and the idea of fire and revolution. So I’m gonna choose FIRE. As a way to burn shit the fuck down. Shit that is not working for the most marginalized people, marginalized Black people, need to get burned the fuck down. I think about that in terms of abolition too. Prisons need to get shut down a.k.a burned the fuck down. Police need to get shut down a.k.a. burned the fuck down. You know what I mean? So I’m thinking about radical acts, and that’s what’s giving me life, is FIRE.
Darielle: The last question is.. What are you manifesting for the rest of 2020, both for yourself and the world?
Jewel: So what I’m manifesting, (I’m a manifester okayyy, it’s one of my gifts, it’s what I do). For myself, I’m manifesting remaining grounded in myself, remain grounded in who I am. And I get to pick and choose what that looks like everyday. Remaining grounded in Jewel. Remaining grounded in my values, in my work, in my body, within my healing journey. Recognizing that healing is not linear, there will be days where I’m really good and other days where I’m not good and both of those things are okay. And just really coming back to self is what I’m manifesting. Manifesting that level of bounce back energy.
For the world, I’m manifesting, hmmm, I feel like the time is NOW for Black people to rise the fuck up. I still hate that the world “minority” is being used, I still hate that people don’t like to use the word “Black”, I hate that (this is Black people) there’s so much internalized anti-Blackness. What I’m hoping is that black people realize, I am Black. I am proud of being Black, I’m unapologetically Black. Black, Black, Black, Black, Black.
Darielle: Black, bliggity, Black.
Jewel: Bliggity, Black, Black, Black. I’m manifesting that energy to really allow the internalized anti-Blackness to disseminate. I’m manifesting just hella Black vibes, sooo much that. Coming back to our Blackness. Our Blackness is beautiful, our ghetto-ness is beautiful, our resourcefulness. Cause ghetto-ness is resourcefulness. Yes, I know how to make 30 meals from this ramen. Yes I can.
So for myself, coming into myself and my healing journey that I’ve done. And then for Black people, cause that’s who I care about. For Black people in the world, it’s returning to the pride,unapologeticness of Black. Not being afraid to say it, not being afraid to shout it from a fucking roof top. Not I’m a woman of color, I’m a femme of color.. I’m a Black person. Period.
Darielle: I’m so glad. For holding space, for answering these questions honestly. Ugh, yes! Always a pleasure. Literally always a pleasure. Always amazing to witness your brilliance.
Jewel: I’m so glad, when they was like Darielle was doing this, I was like Oh my God I get to talk to Darielle!
Darielle: Once all this shit calms the fuck down, we absolutely need to link up. Support the vibes, support the antics. Alright I love you so much, bye thank you!
Jewel: I love you too Darielle, always a pleasure! Take care of yourself. Bye boo.
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